The leg press is a popular piece of gym equipment that can help build key muscles in your legs. There are two leg press machines commonly found in gyms and home gyms: the standard horizontal leg press and the 45-degree leg press, with a seat that reclines at an angle while your legs press upward in a diagonal direction.

Both machines develop the quadriceps and hamstrings of the thigh and the gluteus (buttocks). While it seems like a simple exercise, it’s essential to learn how to use it properly. Paying attention to your form can maximize the strength-building benefits and prevent injury. The leg press is used as part of a leg strengthening routine or a machine circuit workout.How to Do the Leg Press

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Leg Press Benefits

The leg press machine allows you to get some of the benefits of a barbell squat for developing the quadriceps. Secondarily, it develops the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and calves.How to Do the Leg Press

One benefit of the leg press machine is that you can emphasize different muscles by varying your leg press foot position. It builds strength in these muscles, and you can use it to overcome imbalances, such as overly developed hamstrings, compared to quadriceps.

Although the leg press mimics the barbell squat, it reduces the force on your core, making it less of a full-body exercise. This can be beneficial if you add the leg press to your routine as an accessory to squats. Doing so will allow you to continue adding volume to your quadriceps and other leg press muscles worked without causing the additional fatigue that loading a barbell on your spine creates.How to Do the Leg Press

Further strengthening your quadriceps can boost your squat performance by increasing strength in the muscles needed to progress. If you find you have reached a strength plateau with your barbell squat, adding the leg press may help.

Using a seated leg press machine may also help increase your balance and stability, especially if you are a beginner at lifting heavy weights. Some people are not ready to use a barbell for squatting until they are accustomed to lifting heavy weights with their legs in a way that increases balance and stability of the core and legs in a safe manner, such as with the leg press.

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Step-by-Step Instructions

Your body should be in a specific position when using a seated leg press machine. Place your head and back comfortably against the padded support as you sit on the machine. Keeping your heels level, place your feet on the footplate approximately hip-width apart.How to Do the Leg Press

Rather than being elevated, your butt should be flat against the seat. At the knees, your legs should be in a roughly 90-degree angle. Your glutes will be overworked if your feet are too high on the plate, and your knees will be overworked if they are too low. Your knees should not be bent inward or outward; instead, they should be parallel to your feet.

Be careful to maintain this alignment while you press. Holding onto the assist handles will help to support and maintain the alignment of your head and spine.How to Do the Leg Press

  1. Brace your abdominal muscles and push the platform away with your heels and forefoot. Your heels should remain flat on the footplate. The front of your foot or toes should never be used exclusively to move the pad forward.
  2. While exhaling, extend your legs and keep your head and back flat against the seat pad. Extend with slow control rather than with an explosive movement.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement. Do not lock out your knees, and ensure that they are not bowing out or in.
  4. While inhaling, return the footplate to the starting position by gradually bending the knees. Keep the feet and back flat throughout.
  5. If you have never done leg presses, start modestly with three sets of 10 leg presses. You can advance from there as you build strength.

Leg Press Common Mistakes

It is essential to ensure proper form to get the most out of your leg press routine. To ensure you are doing the leg press safely, avoid these errors.

Too Much Weight

One of the most significant factors is ensuring you’re not trying to lift more weight than you should. If you can’t control your movements, you must reduce the weight. Proper form is more important than the amount of weight you’re lifting.How to Do the Leg Press

While the exercise should require effort, it needs to be done with complete control. Never rush through the exercise or allow your legs to collapse at the end of the movement.

Buttocks Not Flat Against Seat

If your buttocks are raised off the seat, your legs are at too sharp of an angle. You will need to move the seat back until your knees and buttocks are comfortably positioned. You can recognize poor positioning when you feel cramped, and/or your knees seem to be directly in front of your eyes.How to Do the Leg Press

Placing Hands on Knees

Placing hands on the knees is a common mistake that will break your form. Grip the assist handles instead.

Short Range of Motion

Always follow through the entire range of motion without lifting your hips. If needed, adjust the seat and/or lower your weights. This means getting deep into the position with your butt below your hips, and your knees wide.

Raising Head

Focus on the position of your head. It should be steady and laid comfortably against the seatback. If you are jerking your head forward, you are using too much weight.

Breathing

Remember to keep breathing during the effort phase and to avoid holding your breath. If you focusing on exhaling on exertion and inhaling on release, your breathing will eventually become automatic.How to Do the Leg Press

Leg Press Modifications and Variations

You can adjust the leg press to make it more accessible as a beginner and to use it to progress.

Need a Modification?

You need to adjust this very individual exercise to fit your body. As machines can vary, you may want to ask a trainer to show you how to adjust it safely before starting.

Beginners should use lighter weights and develop good form. Concentrate on slow and deliberate movements rather than how many reps or the amount of weight you’re lifting. Ask a trainer to review your form and get personalized advice if you notice any unwarranted stress or pain.How to Do the Leg Press

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Up for a Challenge?

Foot positioning can be used to work muscles in different ways. Using a wider foot placement will work the inner thigh muscles. Using a narrower foot placement will work the outer thigh muscles.

Placing your feet higher on the footplate will work your gluteus maximus and hamstrings to a greater degree. Placing your feet lower on the footplate will emphasize the quads more, but this also puts more stress on the knees and should be done with caution.

You can also use the leg press one leg at a time if you are working to overcome imbalances.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid the leg press if you have weak pelvic floor muscles, as it puts much stress on the pelvic floor.5 You should not use this machine if you have a knee injury. Instead, do safer leg press alternatives or strengthening exercises as your doctor, or physical therapist recommended.How to Do the Leg Press

Do not push through the pain if one or both of your knees hurt. Pushing through will only cause injury. This exercise can also place stress on your back, so it should be avoided if you have a back injury or back pain.How to Do the Leg Press

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